Taking People With You – Plastics Reduction

I am proud to work for one of the UK’s most sustainable universities, but I know we can always do more. The next opportunity is always there to be taken and it’s been great to see a rise in the commitment of both our staff and our students over issues important to them.

Whilst our research delivers greener sources of energy, food supply and construction, and our campuses use solar energy and have carbon neutral buildings we continue to use a huge amount of plastic across our campuses. We know we can reduce this this significantly — and we are engaging with our staff, students, visitors, suppliers and partners to establish what we should do – and how big our ambition should be.

We know that not all plastics are ‘bad’. Indeed, plastics have been a fundamental part of advances in medicine, construction, technology, transport and much more. But we also know that there are significant opportunities to reduce the use of unnecessary single-use plastics — such as coffee cups, bottled drinks and other everyday items that we use once and then throw away.

We bin more than 1 million disposable coffee cups and 1.1 million plastic drinks bottles a year across our UK campuses. Quite frankly, that’s astounding. We know we can do better. We know that everyone can make a difference by making small changes to their choices and lifestyle. By raising awareness and providing easy-access alternatives, we think we can make a big difference.

We’re developing challenging institutional tasks and targets for reduction, but we can only achieve those with the support of our students and staff.  We have set up a survey to help us decide what we should focus on — and how you would help us to accomplish our goals. It takes less than six minutes, but will provide us with the feedback we need to define what we do next.

With 10 days to go we’ve already had well over the 2000 responses – phenomenal! It shows just how much interest there is in the subject. Our Vice-Chancellor, Professor Shearer West, said:

Our research has a well-deserved reputation for supporting a more sustainable planet in developing greener sources of energy, food supply and construction. It is only right that our investments and campus activity reflect this.

We have recently committed to fossil fuel divestment within 12 months. Taking the next step in reducing single-use plastics on campus is an important part of our global outlook, ethical values and commitment to environmental sustainability. I invite our University community of staff and students to help us continue our drive to become ever more sustainable.”

 

What’s in a Name?

My first ‘proper’ job was in 1998 in a small town in West Yorkshire. It’s a place called Keighley. You might know it. When I first moved to West Yorkshire to study in Bradford (pronounced ‘Bratfud’) I didn’t know about Keighley. In fact, it was probably a while before I had to go there at all and, when I did, I bought myself a ticket at Forster Square Station to Keighley.

“Could I have a adult day return to Keighley {Keeley} please?”

“Er, you mean Keighley {Keithley}?”

“Yeah, that’s the one, thanks”.

It wasn’t hard to spot the first time visitors to Keighley after that.

My second, proper job, was at Leeds Metropolitan University and whilst I was able to avoid Keighley I stumbled upon The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges. It was a bit of a mouthful and the acronym wasn’t any easier but it looked like it was just the thing I needed.

In the early 2000s I found myself as Convenor of the Association and it became, increasingly, known as the ‘Ee-Ay-You-See’ {EAUC} to many. But to some, it was any of the following: ‘You-Ack’; AEUC; The Association of Environmental Universities and Colleges; The Environmental Association OF Universities and Colleges’ and goodness knows what else. At best it was frustrating.

And once people were familiar with it, particularly the members, they would question the vailidity of the name as well. Their challenge was ‘it’s not all about the environment, I am a sustainability officer’ and the name of the Association is no longer relevant because it does so much more than ‘the environment’.

In truth, the Association has evolved significantly since I first got involved in it. 18+ years has seen it grow, employ staff, set up awards, develop measurement tools, training programmes, publications, webinars, international networks, and review its strategy and focus.

I was pleased to be invited to be part of that process and worked with members of the EAUC Board, executive team, Fellows and members of the association. The strategy was launched last year and really set a clear ambition to broaden its scope and increase its impact. All of sudden it felt like we’ve outgrown the name. Members were saying it, the task and finish group working on the strategy were saying it and so it was right to come up with something new that reflected the association’s new mission and priorities. Of course, much of what it has done in the past it will continue to do but it’s a good time to reposition.

I wasn’t involved in the development of the ‘new name’ or brand. I consciously left that to others to come up with and I was impatient when it seemed to take so long to come up with a new name. How hard can it be?

Like complicated maths, sometimes you want to know the answer and not be bothered with the working out. But to understand the answer you perhaps need to understand how it was arrived at, the logic that got you there. If you didn’t work the sum out for yourself you might even question the answer others have given you.

United Futures. When I heard it the first time, I thought ‘hmmm’. Not specific enough. Doesn’t tell me ‘sustainability’ or ‘university’ or ‘college’ and certainly doesn’t say ‘post-16 tertiary education’ to me. Well, good. It doesn’t need to. I don’t know how you reacted to the proposed name. It may have been with disbelief, indifference or excitement. Of course, it matters what the association is called but what’s more important it what it does. After a few minutes of thinking about it, I realised that. I also realised that the flexibility in the new name was a good thing – why box yourself in when you can create flexibility? Further and higher education doesn’t need any more constraints placed on it in such uncertain times. I like the way the new name aligns with the sustainable development goals and is forward looking.

I’ll be at the Annual General Meeting of The Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges at the Annual Conference in Keele on June 20th. As representative of the University of Nottingham, I’ll be supporting the adoption of the new name ‘United Futures’ (there, I’ve said it) and then I’ll get a train to Mytholmroyd.

 

 

University Estates Still Underpin Sustainability Progress in Higher Education

Sustainability has never been more important to the UK higher education sector than it is today and over the past 25 years there has been an ever increasing commitment from the higher education sector.

In 2015 the publication of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals put greater emphasis on the role of education in global sustainability and, globally, politicians have committed to those goals.

This has helped shape the education, learning and research agendas in the developed and developing worlds and the research portfolios of the seven major research councils focus on these global challenges featuring investments in crop productivity and agricultural sustainability (BBSRC); energy and the built environment (EPSRC); international relations and economics (ESRC); health of the public and antibiotic resistance (MRC); climate change and management of land and natural resources (NERC); energy and nuclear physics (STFC). Increasingly it features in the curriculum of degree programmes, equipping graduates with an understanding of one of the greatest challenges we face – sustaining the planet’s health so that the growing human population can survive and thrive for centuries to come.

Universities in the UK have responded to the research challenge and have developed world leading expertise in a wide range of disciplines – cities and urbanism, public health, food and crops, climate adaptation, energy systems and transport, forestry and water and they’ve done it on the campuses, in the buildings and laboratories and out there, for real, in wider society. Because of that, the campuses of 2018 are very different to the campuses of 1992 when AUDE first formed.

Today, visit any UK university and the chances are you will find an exemplar building or project that showcases the art of the possible. Zero carbon laboratories, BREEAM outstanding buildings, LEED Platinum and Passivhaus standards abound. Without doubt, our universities are able to demonstrate best practice with exemplars but are the social, economic and environmental impacts (both positive and negative) of universities adequately understood – both academically and operationally?

Over the past 25 years Directors of Estates and their teams have been central to the delivery of increasingly sustainable estates. The agenda has evolved from a marginalised-green view so that now sustainability professionals are commonplace across many universities helping to shape and deliver increasingly higher standards of performance.

Indeed, the higher education sector has got much to be proud of and can point to some fantastic examples of best practice such as the University of East Anglia’s Enterprise Centre, the Cockroft Building at the University of Brighton or the Centre for Sustainable Chemistry at Nottingham, but despite efforts, most universities are failing to deliver meaningful carbon reductions. A recent report by Brite Green revealed that 71% of UK higher education institutes are forecast to fail the carbon targets they set around 2010 in response to the Higher Education Funding Council for England – even those considered to be doing the most. Whilst much of the public sector has been contracting and reducing its footprint since 2008 the university sector has been encouraged to grow. Chances are, if there are 5 cranes in your city one or two of them are in the middle of a university campus. The real success has been to grow whilst maintaining a reduction in carbon emissions along the way. In fact, the analysis shows that whilst the higher education sector in England has improved its carbon emissions reduction performance it is still off track to achieve the 2020 targets and is far from the 43% HEFCE target.

Increasingly there is a strong economic case for doing embedding the principles of sustainability in to the way campuses are developed so that they are inclusive, safe and environmentally responsible.

Whereas once ‘sustainability’ was seen as a differentiator it’s now considered an expectation and, without doubt, the expectations of current and future students are ever higher and, in an increasingly competitive marketplace, it’s important to deliver.  To attract the very best talent universities are creating inspiring, healthy, innovative spaces that support the research and learning strategies of our universities.

This is a challenge AUDE has fronted up to and, with others, is working with its members to support them in achieving these targets and continuing to contribute towards the wider sustainability agenda. In response to these new challenges, AUDE has developed training and learning activity to support its members and helped to celebrate real achievement through recognising leaders in its awards, conferences and programmes. Alongside that, AUDE has developed a sector-specific tool, the Green Scorecard, to provide benchmark performance information across wide range of estates-related metrics such as biodiversity, waste, water, transport and energy.

There is much change in the higher education sector and, similarly, whilst the scientific evidence for climate change is clear, the policy response isn’t. Successive British governments have been inconsistent in policy and approach and it may become less clear how carbon reduction targets will be achieved whilst negotiating exit deals with the European Union from where much of our energy dependency still comes. Universities are here for the long term and will benefit from longer term policy thinking in government. Whilst the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments have made firmer commitments, Whitehall and Westminster need to provide consistency.

For Directors of Estates, the future is both challenging and exciting. It’s unclear how long the current period of campus expansion can continue. Great uncertainty about the impact of Brexit and stability in the international market may mean that there’ll be a greater focus on maximising the efficiency of existing estates through more robust space management and, afterall, doing more with less and being resource efficient is a fundamental plank of any sustainability strategy. A renewed focus on older buildings and wider infrastructure services will ensure greater longevity for buildings that can have a second, third or even fourth life in a changing climate where resilience to extreme weather patterns will be increasingly important.

If we’re really to embed sustainability in the higher education sector it needs to maintain its strong foothold within estates departments whilst an institution-wide approach is adopted to ensure the wider mission, objectives and strategies consider their economic, social and environmental responsibilities more holistically so that sustainability is considered ‘just good business’.

The opportunity to bring together both the academic mission and the operational need through the development of ‘living labs’ and ‘smart campuses’ could be the way in which universities develop not just sustainable operations, but also learning, knowledge and transferable impact.

Imagine campuses demonstrating real-world, global, sustainability challenges using their intellectual potential to address practical issues and demonstrate them on campus. By co-creating teaching, learning, research and operational activity the next 25 years of university development will see greater innovation, inspiring architecture and better places to live, work and study than ever before. What a neat way to help deliver the sustainable development goals here and across the planet.

Any New Ideas in the New Clean Air strategy for Sheffield ?

Sheffield City Council’s cabinet meets next Wednesday 13th December to sign off a ‘new’ clean air strategy alongside a new ‘Transport Vision for Sheffield‘ which states, tucked away on page 10 that it’s developing a Green City Strategy with climate change at its heart  … 10 years on from the ‘Environmental Excellence’ strategy I wrote with the Labour Cabinet Member of the time I don’t see anything new in the strategies for transport or air quality despite the obvious improvement in data and opportunities afforded by new technologies. Whilst it’s hard to disagree with anything said in either strategy it hardly inspires a step-change in commitment.

There are also plans to establish a series of “Congestion Conversations” to fully understand any areas where congestion hotspots could be tackled with some small changes … [and] we now know that diesel cars are a major contributor to NOx emissions in the city.

To be precise, officers of the Council have known about these issues for a long time. This is not a new discovery. In fact, the Council is simply more accepting of the fact since the Government acknowledged it and has, since, actively disincentivised diesel engines.

As a result “We are seeing a downward market shift nationally in the demand for new diesel cars as a result of greater awareness of air pollution issues. However, there are still a significant number of older diesel cars in the city. Our data suggests that 41% of vehicles registered in Sheffield in 2016 were diesels, almost 30% of private cars are older diesels and there are a lot of older and more polluting petrol private cars on our roads too”.

So far then, a series of ‘comversations’ about congestion alongside some campaigning and now a commitment to “work in partnership with the bus companies to improve the bus fleet and reduce emissions … seeking investment to enable the retrofitting or replacement of the bus fleet” – something the Council has been saying for some time. Again, nothing new here and the evidence in the strategy that the city has some of the worst buses in the country. Even the small percentage of EURO6 engines isn’t encouraging – they often perform worse that EURO5 engines. 

I fear there’ll be little change in the bus operator’s attitude – especially if they’re also being asked to hold fares down (which is a good thing for air quality and carbon emissions overall unless you live right next door to an idling bus lane such as Broomhill, Ecclesall Rd or through West St.

More consultation is planned with the taxi operators: “We will consult and work with the taxi operators and other interested parties, to ensure we have theright standards in place, taking into account the wider implications of any changes that may be needed. We will seek investment from Government for a fund to help taxi operators/owners to improve their vehicles. This will be particularly focused on the most polluting taxis.”

All feels a bit passive to me. No mention of actively investing in electric charging infrastructure for residents, visitors and businesses in the way Nottingham City Council has done over the past 12 months (with a massive £2m roll out plan with Chargemaster). Scant mention of adopting its own fleet (and, I hope Veolia, Kier, etc) and just a postscript on supporting the University of Sheffield’s work on hydrogen.

So, more consultation (with taxis) and no real technological change or use of any smart ambitions for route planning, real time data, smart systems (other than dockless bikes) but, there will be [another] new parking strategy, which will reflect our aims to manage parking demand and incentivise lower emission forms of travel [good]. As part of this we will:

  • Review the parking permits available, including Green Parking Permit scheme, to ensure that they reflect the latest technological improvements and are incentivising low emission vehicles.
  • Review our Sheffield City Council employee parking schemes to encourage public transport, active travel and other low emission forms of transport.
  • Review parking across the city, including areas that are currently unregulated
  • Identify, review and implement a range of parking encouragements and disincentives to improve air quality.

I will be really interested to see how far the Council is prepared to go on this. In truth, they own very little of the off-street parking in the city anymore. Most of it is provided by private companies over whom they have very little influence. The parking stock in question is on-street, highly politicised [by a parking lobby and the Members themselves] and small in number.

On the positive side, it’s good to see a strategy going to Cabinet. It’s been in the queue for a very long time. It’s important that it integrates with the City’s transport strategy and they work together. I’m also really encouraged to learn there’s a Green City Strategy in the making too. But what I have read in these strategies is passive, lacks real teeth and misses the opportunities to use new technologies and stimulate a market for low emission vehicles in the City.

How to win the climate wars – talk about local ‘pollution’ not global warming

As the Caribbean islands and Florida were hit by enormous, powerful storms in the past week it’s not difficult to see the predicted effects of climate change so eloquently shared by Al Gore in his film Truth to Power played out across that part of the planet. Loss of lives, livelihoods, property, personal effects – lives changed forever by the relentless storms.

The focus of climate change often falls on mitigation – slowing down global warming by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases – but resilience is every bit as important.

Tae Hoon Kim, Researcher in Energy Politics, University of Cambridge writes:

Donald Trump has done many things to tarnish America’s reputation, but his decision to walk away from the Paris Agreement is probably the most internationally symbolic and damaging. That a US president can put climate change denial at the centre of his climate and energy policy is truly unprecedented, and it is difficult to remember an administration that has been so intent on undermining the intellectual and scientific findings on global warming.

Truth To Power. Time to Fix Democracy.

On 23rd December 2006 – just before the Christmas break – I was told that Al Gore would be coming to Sheffield to present to an audience of key stakeholders, leaders and decision makers and to share his influential views on climate change. The science and the slides in his documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, were to be presented live by the man himself.

documentary-film-an-inconvenient-truthAn Inconvenient Truth has been credited for raising international public awareness of climate change and re-energising the environmental movement. The documentary has been included in science curricula in schools around the world. It was also instrumental in Al Gore sharing the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

As Head of Environmental Strategy at the City Council I was excited to know that one of the 21st Century’s most respected politicians and leaders on the issue of climate change was coming to my city to address the people I’d been working with and helping to understand the very real threat of climate change. Over the first 18 months or so in post I had made understanding the challenge of climate change and its impact on the City a priority and this was a great opportunity to reinforce those messages. The man’s pulling power was awesome and the invitations to watch were snapped up fast.

I’d already presented to a Full Council Scrutiny session on the issue of climate change in 2005 and, whilst the City’s councillors were interested it was fair to say they had other priorities. They asked probing questions on that sunny afternoon in September 2005 but whilst they remained engaged in the agenda through Scrutiny Boards and Cabinet Reports, particularly around the ways in which the Council could reduce carbon emissions, reduce costs and become more self-sufficient in terms of energy generation across the City, they saw the challenge as too big and needing leadership from a higher plane. But, there was often a win-win-win and an obvious benefit to citizens and, I mean, who wouldn’t want to invest and save waste – it’s an easy case to make in most cases.

There is a wonderful sequence in the movie where he meets Dale Ross, the mayor of Georgetown in Texas. The mayor describes Georgetown as the reddest city in the reddest county in Texas – and he’s a conservative Republican. But he sees moving toward renewable energy, as just making sense.

Now that we knew Former Vice-President Gore was coming we could only expect greater commitment to tackling the causes and the effects of climate change couldn’t we? Overnight, we created the ‘Sheffield is my Planet’ campaign with our excellent creative minds at Diva Creative who had expertise in social marketing and behaviour change activity and a wonderful exhibition was curated where the City’s most innovative companies grouped to showcase their products and services on the day Gore was in town. We achieved more in those 5-6 weeks than we could possibly have imagined. The fear of not being seen to be committed was motivation enough.

Quite simply, we’d accelerated our commitment to a city-wide approach to climate change because of this one man agreeing to speak to us. Nobody wanted to appear uncommitted and there was a certain amount of jockeying for prominence. I remember Tom Riordan, then CEO of Yorkshire Forward the now defunct regional development agency, launching Carbon Action Yorkshire there and then in a room full of MPs, businesses leaders, academics, influencers, movers and shakers.

10 years on and it’s fair to say the City of Sheffield’s commitment to this agenda has both waxed and waned. It’s currently in an inter-waxing period. Whilst the climate continues to warm, the commitment to action appears to have cooled. The City Council has been heavily criticised for not following through on its climate promises and continues to create headlines for its tree felling / replacement programme. However, there are rays of light in amongst this that should encourage us. Since Gore’s visit to the City we’re no longer debating the existence of a changing climate. There are always dissenting voices but, on the whole, the science is accepted and the focus is on what is needed.

Of course, the City had a big wakeup call later in 2007 when one of those intense rainfall storms hit the city in June 2007 and flooded much of the City, with fatalities. That, plus Gore, had brought about a focus on climate resilience and adaptation that hadn’t captured the imagination of councillors til then.

On Friday I watched the live feed Q&A session broadcast to 340 cinema theatres across the UK where Gore addressed questions from the excellent, informed host and the UK-wide audience. He remained compelling, engaging and effective in portraying expert knowledge and insight, countless examples of why we must tackle both the causes and the effects of climate change and he warmed the audience up for the latest film, ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power’ which followed immediate after.

DHIRkxMXgAE-s80The sequel is different to the first film – it is much more biographical and focuses on how Gore became the great climate change communicator and what he has been doing with his charities to build awareness and train future climate change leaders around the world.

Many of the predictions in Gore’s first film have come true. Those who described his predictions as ‘a terrible exaggeration’ are faced with the facts that the effects of climate change are happening. The intensity of storms, the melting of glaciers and ice caps and the rising global temperatures have come to bear. Despite that, the film tries to focus on the positive solutions already being implemented and the political commitments made in Paris. The discourse on climate change has, largely, shifted again from ‘is it real?’ to ‘what can we do?’ to ‘Can we do this?’.

But in the final few months before release President Trump has withdrawn from the Paris deal. Whatever positivity was embedded in the film is tarnished, undermined and obliterated by the approach Donald Trump has taken. The United States of America’s President is the cause of much head shaking by Gore.

There’s a great interview with Al Gore in The Conversation by Prof Mark Maslin of UCL. He says I was struck in the middle of your film by a profound statement: “To fix the climate crisis we need to fix democracy”. And then the film moved on to another topic. How do you think we can fix our democracies now in the 21st century?”

Gore replied “Well, big money has hacked our democracy even before Putin did. And it accompanied the transition from the printing press to television, when all of a sudden candidates – especially in the US – were made to feel they have to spend all their time begging rich people and special interests for money so they can buy more TV ads and their opponents.

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And that’s really given an enormous unhealthy and toxic degree of influence to lobbyists and special interests. Now just as television replaced the printing press, internet-based media are beginning to displace television and once again open up the doorways to the public forum for individuals who can use knowledge and the best available evidence.

If you believe in democracy as I do and if you believe in harvesting the wisdom of crowds, then the interaction of free people exchanging the best available evidence of what’s more likely to be true than not will once again push us toward a government of by and for the people. One quick example. Last year the Bernie Sanders campaign – regardless of what you might think about his agenda – proved that it is now possible on the internet to run a very credible nationwide campaign without taking any money from lobbyists and special interests or billionaires. Instead, you can raise money in small amounts from individuals on the internet and then be accountable to them and not have to worry about being accountable to the big donors.

Gore has made it his mission to build a following of trained climate change communicators to share his commitment and to learn how apartheid, slavery and civil rights movements can be repeated – but this time to build consensus in saving humankind from itself. Their task was tough in 2006 but they made progress. If democracy needs to be fixed first then maybe the uprising needs to focus elsewhere because just when it looked a little more positive, it was Trumped.

The film is released UK wide on Friday 18th August 2017. I would urge you to see it. I would urge you to #BeInconvenient

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